Dan Zanes and Friends will release a third family album, Night Time! in September. The album is the follow-up to his successful 2001 release, Family Dance, which featured a variety of dance tracks and guests including Rosanne Cash and Loudon Wainwright III. This time out, the former Del Fuegos frontman will be joined by "Friends" that include Lou Reed, Aimee Mann, John Doe, Dar Williams, Barbara Brousal, Father Goose, the Sandy Girls and others.
"I definitely have my wish list of people that I think are great," Zanes says of his guest-filled pursuit. "And I do it because it makes it a lot of fun for me. These are people that I have some personal connection to. And a lot of times, the connection is that I'm a big fan [laughs]. But the process tends to be fairly organic. John Doe I ran into out on the street over Thanksgiving, and I hadn't seen him for ten years. We used to open for them all the time."
If the curmudgeonly Lou Reed doesn't seem like an obvious choice to sing "It's a Wonderful World," even Zanes was surprised by the punk forefather's beautiful vocal. "I've heard so much of his music for so long, it is easy to forget that he's an incredible singer and vocal stylist. He brought that persona in with him to the recording, and it was a little intimidating, but by the end of it we were all laughing and talking about gear. I knew on a musical level, I'd be thrilled, but on a personal level it just came out of nowhere, and I thought, 'This is just one of the sweetest people,' and man, he sang his ass off."
The rest of the songs are a seamless mix of seemingly disparate source material, from Woody Guthrie's "So Long It's Been Good to Know Yuh," to the South African gospel tune "Siyahamba" to the traditional "Wild Mountain Thyme," to a handful of Zanes originals.
The role of family music-maker has placed Zanes inside a lineage of folk singers like Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Eric Von Schmidt, who recorded music for all ages. "Don Fleming at the Lomax archives told me a legitimate part of any folk singers' repertoire was the children's music," Zanes says. "Woody Guthrie and those guys, they did their thing, and they still had those children's songs; it's just what you did. It makes so much sense to me. So if that's a tradition that I can be a part of, well, I'm all for it."
Three albums in, Zanes has become comfortable with the recording style but says he still does some beta testing to ease any anxieties. "That's why I like being married and having a daughter," he says. "There's always somebody around to run things by."
Zanes already has a nugget of an idea for the fourth record. "I think the theme this time out might be 100 percent fun at home, with as many handmade instruments as we can pull into it," he says. "And just come at it with the attitude of the jug band and keep it loose and freewheeling."
Night Time! track listing:
"Night Owl," with Aimee Mann
"Pay Me My Money Down," with the Rocket Ship Review
"Side by Side," with Father Goose
"Guysborough Railway," with Donald Saaf
"Que Fortunidad!," with Barbara Brousal
"Evening Time," with the Sandy Girls
"Smile Smile Smile"
"Down by the Riverside
"Rattlin' Bog," with Father Goose and the Dandelion Chorus
"So Long It's Been Good to Know Yuh," with John Doe
"What a Wonderful World," with Lou Reed and the Rubi Theater Company
"Wild Mountain Thyme," with Dar Williams
"Linger for Awhile"
Dan Zanes tour dates:
9/7: Iowa City, IA, Country Fair Grounds
9/14: Portland, OR, Reed College
9/15: Seattle, Experience Music Project
9/21-22: Gainesville, FL, Phillips Center
9/29: Columbus, OH, Wexner Center
10/12: New York, Symphony Space
10/20: Ridgefield, CT, Aldrich Museum
10/27: Brooklyn, NY, Brooklyn Center for Performing Arts
11/2: Minneapolis, Walker Art Center
11/17: Somerville, MA, Somerville Theater
11/23: Northampton, MA, Eric Carle Museum
11/24: Albany, NY, The Egg
12/7-8: La Jolla, CA, La Jolla Playhouse
12/15: Miami, Lincoln Theater